Gender and age separate two change-making candidates in District 71

by Jordan Green

Everette Witherspoon, a 34-yearoldForsyth County commissionerannounced he was running for aseat in the NC General Assemblythe day Larry Womble announced he wasn’t.The senior member of the Forsyth Countydelegation, Womble had planned to run for NCSenate District 32 after Republican-controlledredistricting exiled the seat’s current occupant.

But Womble was seriously injured in a car accidentin December and decided against running.Thus followed a reshuffl e, with Earline Parmonseeking the District 32 seat, and Witherspoonseeking to replace Womble in District 71.“One person in particular invited me to thehospital and told me that I better run,” Witherspoontold voters at a candidate forum at ShilohBaptist Church last month. “The person’s namewas state Rep. Larry Womble. And he told me:‘When you get to Raleigh you better do threethings. You better speak up. You better standup. And if necessary, you better act up.’ That’swhat I plan to do.”A social worker by training, Witherspoon isserving his fi rst term on the county commission.Notwithstanding his relative inexperience,he has turned heads as a likable and quick-wittedpublic servant and a forceful advocate.Almost twice her opponent’s age, EvelynTerry is a political veteran who charts anindependent course.

She served one term onWinston-Salem City Council before beingvoted out in 2009.Terry makes a point to tell voters about hergrandfather, a proud but illiterate man whowalked from Randolph County to Winston-Salem and was determined that his childrenget a good education. Terry said her mothermemorized parts of the Constitution so that shecould challenge anyone who tried to deny hergrandfather his right to vote.It was only after returning home in theearly 1970s after living in Philadelphia, Terrysaid, that she realized how poor Winston-Salem was.

She worked as a communityorganizer for the Experiment in Self-Relianceand successfully lobbied the city council toimprove rental-housing standards, jeopardizingher job in the process.Registered Democrats outnumber Republicansthree to one in District 71, which includesdowntown and stretches from LinvilleRoad in the east to Peters Creek Parkway inthe west. The district’s racial makeup, likeneighboring District 72, is almost evenly splitbetween black and white, with Hispanics andunaffi liated voters growing in number overthe past decade.

The winner of the Democratic primarycontest will face Republican Kris McCann inNovember.Witherspoon and Terry share similar viewson both economic and social issues: Bothfavor a ‘¾ cent sales tax increase proposedby Gov. Bev Perdue to restore funding forsecondary education and both oppose themarriage amendment as discriminatory.

Witherspoon stepped out on his own at arecent candidate forum hosted by the Winston-Salem Urban League by taking a positionagainst North Carolina’s right-to-worklaw, which prevents unions from engaging incollective bargaining with employers.

“When we talk about jobs, the biggestemployer in North Carolina is the state ofNorth Carolina,” the candidate said. “If youwork for the state of North Carolina, if youwant to put your family members in thebenefi t plan you will pay twice as much assomebody in Virginia…. I can understandthe argument with the private sector, butyou can’t outsource state jobs. And we havethe worst record in the country. If you votefor Everette Witherspoon, you don’t have tohave somebody who has 52 shades of gray toknow where I stand.”Terry said she hasn’t developed a positionon the issue.“I do not know what the answers are,” shesaid.

“So I want to listen to what you say andwhat your opinion is about that before I make ajudgment about whether or not we believe thatrecruitment of new jobs into the state of NorthCarolina warrants our being somewhat laxabout right to work or whether we believe thatwe need to enforce and be vehement about it.”Witherspoon took a risky gambit duringthe forum by implicitly calling attention toTerry’s age.“We can talk about experience, but veryseldom do you have somebody with theyouth and the experience in the same race,”he said.

“I’m the only person in this racewho’s ever dealt with an education budget.I’m the only person in this race who’s dealtwith a health and human services budget. I’mthe only person in this race who’s ever dealtwith a county commission or communitycollege budget…. If you have two candidateswho are similar, I believe you have to gowith the one who can give you longevity.”Terry found herself seated betweenWitherspoon and James Taylor, a 31-year-oldcandidate who defeated her in her 2009 citycouncil election and is now running againstParmon for NC Senate.

“Look, do you want to run a marathon?”Terry jested.Later, in an interview, Terry praised Witherspoonas “a fi ne young man.”

“From the standpoint of having some experience,I’ve won some battles and lost some,”she said. “We have to be forthright in what weare fi ghting for. I’ve always been about service,not self…. We’ve marginalized 50 percent ofpeople. I have learned from interacting withother people. You have to listen. You have tobe a very keen listener. Unlike my opponent, Idon’t have all the answers. My knowledge andunderstanding comes from all those who needto be lifted up.”